Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  We laugh. Edward is not his father’s son for nothing.

  “Well, isn’t that what most marriages are all about?” says Tom.

  Ned frowns. “Naturally, but it’s still good form to maintain some pretense that there’s more to the business than that. It was the bluntness of the boy that was so startling, for all his seriousness, and most of the lords were having trouble stifling their amusement. Of course, I was able to tell him that the Princess will bring a great dowry—we are negotiating on that point at present. And I stressed that the most important advantage she will bring to himself and his realm will be the lasting friendship of France.”

  “Which he swallowed whole, I take it?” snorts Tom. “And pigs might fly.”

  Ned shoots him a withering look. “We need France just now. But the King went wittering on about misliking the Princess’s religion and insisting it be understood by the French that he expects her to convert to the true faith. As Supreme Head of the Church of England, he pointed out, he cannot marry a heretic.”

  Tom’s face registers smug satisfaction.

  Oh, well done, Your Majesty, I think. We have just the bride for you up our sleeves.

  Ned is still grumbling as we cross the cracked flagstones of the courtyard. “Then that crafty Warwick said he had no doubt that His Majesty would be able to persuade her she was in error, but His Majesty picked up the irony in his voice and shot him a sharp look. But I know what the boy really wants, because he told me before this new marriage was ever suggested.”

  Both Tom and I look at the Protector with interest. I can guess what my husband is thinking.

  “What does he want?” he asks carefully.

  “He wants to follow his father’s wishes and marry Mary, Queen of Scots. And when I pointed out that she is betrothed to the Dauphin, he retorted that betrothals can be broken and that anything could happen between now and the time he reaches fourteen, which is when he intends to marry. He’s been brought up on dreams of gaining Scotland, which he rightly said would be his if he married Queen Mary.”

  “The French will never break the betrothal,” I say. “They have Scotland within their grasp.”

  “Exactly,” replies Ned. “We have to be realistic.”

  We concur. And it is not realistic to expect our increasingly fanatical little King to accept a Catholic bride, especially when there’s an excellent Protestant one in the offing.

  All things considered, Tom’s daring scheme is falling beautifully into place.

  Lady Jane Grey

  BRADGATE HALL AND CHELSEA, JANUARY 1548

  Christmas has come and gone, and at Bradgate my chests lie almost packed, ready for my departure for Chelsea. My heart is singing. Since I was informed that I am to join the Queen’s household, I have not quite been able to believe my good fortune, nor that I am really about to get away from the intolerable durance of my life under my parents’ roof, from the taunts, the criticism, the slaps, the cruelty. I am to escape at last.

  I thank God fervently every day for the great mercy He has shown in placing me with the Queen, whose kind heart and gentle manner make her the easiest person in the world to love. Also, I pray to my utmost power that nothing will occur to prevent my going to Chelsea, which sounds to me like a very paradise, and that God will not account me too overburdened with blessings, for I am taking with me those I love best in the world, faithful Mrs. Ellen and dear Dr. Aylmer.

  I cannot help but wonder why I am to go to the Queen at this time. My mother says it is usual for girls of my rank to be sent to live in a noble household to learn the social graces and complete their education, yet I have a strange feeling that there is some other reason, some advantage to be gained from it by my parents. Well, time will tell. I am the beneficiary now, whatever the future holds.

  Fortunately, the scandal surrounding the Queen’s marriage to the Admiral has been all but forgotten, at least in this household, but just in case my parents were still entertaining any doubts on that score, the Admiral wrote to say that his mother, old Lady Seymour, will be joining his household to assist the Queen in overseeing my welfare and will treat me as if I were her own daughter. And for company, he added, I will be fortunate in having the society of the Lady Elizabeth, my royal cousin. I am so happy I can hardly sleep for excitement.

  When the day of departure arrives, my mother swoops regally into my chamber and quizzes Mrs. Ellen and the maids to make sure that everything that should have been packed has been, and that nothing has been forgotten. Then she turns and looks me up and down. This morning I asked Mrs. Ellen to dress me in a simple gown of black velvet with sleeves lined with white samite. Few jewels adorn my attire, and my headdress is a plain black French hood and veil. I have recently read that it becomes a virtuous Protestant maiden to dress modestly and discreetly.

  “And where do you think you are going dressed like that?” demands my mother, bearing down upon me. I stand my ground. Soon I will no longer have to put up with her bullying.

  “I see nothing wrong with my attire, my lady. I thought it looked seemly enough.”

  “Everything’s wrong with it. You look as if you are in mourning. For Heaven’s sake, you are going to stay with the Queen! Out of respect for her, have the decency to dress the part! It’s not as if you can rely on your own beauty to blind others to the fact that you cannot be bothered with your appearance. Really, you should know better!”

  “On the contrary, my lady, I have taken care with my appearance,” I say quietly. “I am sure the Queen will appreciate that I desire to dress as becomes a godly Protestant maiden. I have read that fripperies and gewgaws are but papist vanities.” There, I have said it, the thing I have been itching to say ever since I read it. I know I have been rude; the implied insult is clear, because my mother herself is wearing a gown of crimson satin embroidered with gold and edged with pearls and other gems. She is also dripping with jewels.

  I wince as my mother’s palm lashes my cheek, but I make no murmur. She is breathing heavily, red in the face.

  “You will apologize for that, girl, on your knees.”

  I say nothing.

  “You insulted me, you impertinent minx! Now you will kneel and beg forgiveness, and then you will change into some fitting clothes and leave worrying about such things to your betters. You will not gainsay me. I’ll hear no more of such nonsense.”

  “My lady, I cannot apologize when I have done nothing wrong.”

  Another slap. “Kneel! Or I write to the Queen and tell her we have changed our minds and you cannot come.”

  She has me there. I am in a corner and she knows it. Unwillingly, I kneel.

  “I crave your forgiveness, my lady,” I whisper.

  “That will suffice,” she says. “Now, Mrs. Ellen, the green damask gown, I think, with the tawny kirtle. And the emerald pendant.”

  Mrs. Ellen and I exchange surreptitious glances, but there is nothing more to be said. And so, sumptuously gowned and swathed in furs against the January cold, I descend to the great hall and kneel again, this time to receive my parents’ blessing. Then I climb into the carriage and set off with my escort for the south, and freedom.

  Queen Katherine opens her arms wide as I curtsy.

  “No ceremony, Jane. Welcome to Chelsea. I hope you will be very happy here.” I am swept into a warm embrace, then released so that a smiling Lord Admiral can extend his greeting too.

  “Why, you’re a handsome little lady,” he says merrily, standing back to look at me. “And you’ve grown.”

  “Not a lot, my lord,” I reply, knowing he had but meant to be kind. I am aware that I am still small for a ten-year-old.

  “The healthy fresh air here will do you good,” says the Queen, leading me from the jetty where my barge has moored, along a path that winds through well-tended formal gardens toward the mellow, redbrick palace, whose many-paned windows glint in the winter sunshine. In the great hall, with its impressive hammer-beam roof and armorial glass, I am presented to my cousin the L
ady Elizabeth, who kisses me on both cheeks and casts appraising eyes over me.

  At fourteen, Elizabeth is considerably taller than I, yet there are familial similarities in our looks. We both have the Tudor red hair, and we both wear it parted in the center beneath a French hood. We are both slender, with pale, freckled skin, pointed chins, and dark, watchful eyes, and we both have beautiful hands with long, tapering fingers. I notice from the first that Elizabeth takes every opportunity to display her slender fingers to advantage. My cousin, I fear, is vain.

  “Many princes have asked for my hand,” she boasts later, as we sit talking together in a window embrasure waiting to be summoned to our supper. “I am expected to make a great marriage someday.”

  “Your Grace must be much sought-after,” I say, even though I’m sure she is exaggerating, since her bastard status surely prevents her being in high demand as a princely bride.

  “It is a real nuisance to me!” she declares. “I do not want to marry and live my life at some man’s beck and call. I would be my own mistress. And I do not relish the thought of having babies year in, year out. It scares me.”

  Her candor is refreshing, if astonishing.

  “But it is our duty to marry and bear heirs for our lords,” I say.

  “Duty! Katherine of Aragon did her duty and bore all those dead babies and was put away for her pains. Jane Seymour died doing her duty. And Katherine Howard…” She stops and bites her lip. Doubtless she is thinking of her mother too. “Never mind. When the time comes, I will be making it quite clear that I am minded to live and die a virgin.”

  She turns to me and gives me a piercing look. “You think it can’t be done, little cousin, don’t you? Well, let me tell you something. In this world, there are ways of appearing to go along with other people’s plans, whilst all the time keeping your own counsel and putting things off. And then, before any confrontation can take place, you often find that events have moved on, and that you can do exactly as you please in the matter.”

  I don’t really know what she means, so I just nod vaguely.

  “That’s why you’re here, you know,” Elizabeth says.

  “Why? What do you mean?”

  “It’s so the Admiral can arrange a marriage for you.”

  Of course. I had suspected I was not to come to Chelsea just for my health and happiness.

  “Did they tell you that?”

  “It was something the Queen said,” continues Elizabeth vaguely. “Of course, I don’t know the details. But the Admiral says you are a great prize for any man. Like a heifer!” She giggles.

  “I feel like one,” I mutter. “Is it not unfair that I have not been consulted in this matter?”

  “It was ever the case. We’re women. Men think our views don’t count. But we are not as weak and feeble as they think. Remember that, Jane. We also have strength and determination and cleverness, and those are qualities to be admired. If you don’t like the husband they choose for you, be cunning. There are ways of avoiding an unwanted marriage.”

  I can’t imagine how I could do any such thing.

  “And why should we be obliged to marry anyway?” Elizabeth is saying. “Surely there is much pleasure to be had in the single life. Pleasure in books, or music, the company of friends, or even a little naughty dalliance with gentlemen!”

  I am shocked to hear her speak thus. She looks at my face and laughs.

  “Yes, Jane, you can have it all, if you’re clever. You can go so far and no further, at your will. You need not forgo all of life’s pleasures just because you’re not married.”

  “My lady, where did you learn such ideas?” I ask incredulously.

  “I reasoned them for myself,” she says blithely. “Come, it’s time for us to eat.”

  I follow her into the dining hall. My stay at Chelsea is going to be interesting indeed.

  I am in awe of the Lady Elizabeth. She shares her unorthodox and astonishing confidences with me and swears like a man when no adult is within earshot. There is no mistaking whose daughter she is, and already she carries herself with a regal bearing. She is acutely intelligent, and witty, and I soon realize that we are going to be competitive rather than close. Yet I never fail to accord Elizabeth the respect due to her rank, and truth to tell, I find her company stimulating and enlightening. We spend many happy hours arguing on points of religion or philosophy, or trying to trip each other up on translations, vying to be the better. We also commiserate with each other over the needlework that the Queen insists we do. We both hate sewing.

  I cherish more, however, the company of Queen Katherine, who sometimes sits in on my lessons and stays to discuss them with me. She is a kindly mistress and is adamant that learning should be tempered with other, less demanding pursuits. Twice during the spring she comes to the schoolroom and insists that Dr. Aylmer put away his books as the weather is just right for a picnic in the garden, and he cannot object, for he is invited too. Then tables are set up under the trees, overlooking the river, and we ladies and our attendants fall to laughing and jesting over our food. It is all novel for me, and quite exhilarating.

  Not that I ever mind doing my lessons. To me, learning is an adventure that stimulates the mind and imagination, and I can never resist its lure.

  “You are a delight to teach, Jane,” Dr. Aylmer tells me. He is forever, to my embarrassment, singing my praises to Dr. Ascham, the Lady Elizabeth’s schoolmaster, whose approach to education is similar. There is a healthy, yet friendly rivalry between the two tutors, for each is determined that his own pupil should exceed her rival.

  “You are truly gifted, Jane,” Aylmer says. I blush to hear it.

  “I shall be guilty of the sin of pride, sir!” Oh, I am so happy here. I never want to go home.

  Queen Katherine Parr

  CHELSEA, MARCH 1548

  Mrs. Ellen taps on my door and enters with a tray of cordial.

  “Cook asked me to bring this for you, madam,” she says in her gentle voice.

  “Thank you, Mrs. Ellen. I’m glad you came. I’ve been meaning to ask if you are happy here with us.”

  “Oh, madam,” the nurse says, beaming, “I’ve never felt so at home in a great household. And I’ve been watching Jane these past weeks since our arrival at Chelsea, and, madam, I marvel at the change in her. She is no longer resentful, mutinous, or reserved, as she was at home, and has become quite joyous.”

  “I am gratified to hear it.”

  “It is because you run a happy household, Your Grace. Jane has blossomed under your care.”

  “I was concerned about Jane when she arrived. She was a little mouse, stiff and mute, more than she ever was as a young child; but now I hear her laughing out loud or holding her own in an argument. And she no longer shrinks from my lord’s hearty teasing, as she did at first. I notice she has become adept at the art of repartee—I’d even swear she enjoys flirting a little with him, which greatly amuses him. Yesterday he told her she looks prettier than ever now, which made her cheeks flush, but I think she really begins to believe it.”

  Mrs. Ellen smiles. “For me too the change has been beneficial. I love it here. And if Jane is happy, then I am happy.”

  In truth, I have never known a nurse who so loves her charge.

  “I’m pleased to see that you have made a new friend in Kat Ashley,” I say. Mrs. Ashley is the Lady Elizabeth’s governess. Like Mrs. Ellen, she is a well-meaning soul whose devotion to her charge is manifest, so the two women have a lot in common. When their young ladies are at their lessons, Mrs. Ellen and Mrs. Ashley may be seen sitting together in the parlor or the garden, gossiping to their hearts’ content over a glass of cordial and a plate of marchpane comfits. Sometimes I join them. It is all very relaxed here. I long ago wearied of court ceremonial, and in my own house I insist on only the minimal observance of royal etiquette.

  Yet I, as a queen, cannot abandon protocol so far as to unburden my private fears to these two ladies. Some appearances must be maintained, and it
would be thought shocking for one of my rank to confide such things to her inferiors.

  However, if I go on as I am, I shall go mad.

  “Good day, Kate!” cries my lord, stepping into my closet in high good humor. He stops abruptly. “Are you ill, sweetheart?”

  I wipe my mouth. I feel fragile.

  “I might appear ill, Tom, yet all is well with me. Very well, in fact. Do you take my meaning?”

  “You mean you are happy, my love?” he murmurs, kissing me gently on the forehead. “I made you happy last night, eh? There’s no need to be coy about it.”

  Despite the rising nausea, I smile at his single-mindedness. He has completely misunderstood my meaning.

  “What I’m trying to tell you, Tom, is that I believe I am with child.”

  “Why, Kate, this is joyous news indeed!” he cries, kissing me again, boisterously on the lips this time, lifting me up, twirling me round and round.

  “I beg you, my lord, desist, for the sake of the little one!” I laugh, glad to see him so thrilled. Every man, be he great or humble, wants a son to succeed him, and Tom is no exception. Five minutes later he is happily planning the future, our son’s future, which he envisages being filled with honors and riches.

  “We must have a magnificent party for the christening,” he declares. “I shall invite the King himself!” Indeed, he is so overjoyed at the prospect of his approaching fatherhood that I can say nothing to him of my innermost fears.

  As soon as he has gone, whistling, off to the stables, I throw on a nightgown above my chemise and make my way to the chamber of my mother-in-law, the venerable Lady Seymour. She’s a wise old soul, not long for this world, I guess, but she has borne ten children and must have some understanding of how I feel.

  “Madam, this is a pleasant honor,” she says, rising ramrod-stiff from her chair. Even at this early hour she is fully dressed, and not a hair out of place.

 
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